Trauma families find comfort through new program
Few expect to find themselves in the waiting room at the Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Trauma Center. None of them want to be there. Yet once they arrive, often they stay. Sometimes they stay for hours. Sometimes they stay for weeks.
For Cindi Silvey, it was exactly 12 days. For those 12 days in September 2012, the Trauma Center intensive care unit (ICU) waiting area was home for this Fenton mother. Silvey’s 21-year-old daughter, Meghan Herndon, was a senior nursing student at Southeast Missouri State University who was hit by a truck while riding her motor scooter to work in Cape Girardeau. Meghan wasn’t wearing her helmet.
Meghan was in a coma when she was airlifted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Silvey says she doesn’t remember much from those 12 days. What she does remember are the little things from the trauma nurses and staff that were anything but little to Meghan’s family. Silvey recalls things such as a gentle hand on the shoulder, a hug and “being understanding about the multiple days/nights our family practically monopolized the trauma ICU waiting area.”
After Meghan’s death, unsure if she was ready, Silvey returned to Barnes-Jewish in a volunteer role as a family advocate as part of the Trauma Survival Network’s newest program, Snack and Chat. During the first Friday of every month, Silvey and other volunteers, including a nurse and chaplain, stand near a table of snacks in the ICU and trauma floor. Families holding vigil at the bedsides of their loved ones are encouraged to take a break, have a bite to eat and talk, but only if they want.
“I admit it was really tough and I questioned if I was strong enough,” said Silvey. “I knew I needed to be able to focus on the families currently waiting in the trauma areas and not have them feel bad for me. I have done a lot of research on how to make this experience about the families and how I can help lead the conversations or interactions with them.”
As an ice breaker, Silvey shares her own story with families enduring trauma. “I typically introduce myself, share with them my role as a family advocate in the Trauma Center and then explain how I spent 12 days here in 2012 with my daughter,” explained Silvey. “If the family members seem to want to talk, I ask them if they are willing to tell me about their loved one they are here waiting for.”
Sometimes the families ask Silvey about Meghan. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, they don’t speak at all. They just share knowing glances with one another. “I know for me, when someone asked about Meghan, I took the opportunity to talk as much as I could,” explained Silvey. “In my experience, families love to share stories about their loved one. Even if I don’t talk to them, I can show them I truly care and my thoughts are with them. Everyone wants to know others care.”
They talk about the waiting room, sleeping arrangements, the nearest place to go for a walk, all things Silvey found helpful during those 12 days and ask if there are any resources they need. She lets them know she has been there, and once was in their shoes.
Snack and Chat began in September 2014. Barnes-Jewish Trauma Services’ Injury Prevention Outreach Coordinator Heather Heil says the chats are offered as a less intimidating way for families to get information, without the social workers or group therapy sessions. “They can just talk. No therapists. No officials. No pressure. They can ask about anything, from information on the patient’s recovery to where they can get a warm meal,” explained Heil.
Summer is a busy time for the Trauma Center. Heil hopes they will be able to offer this program more than once a month. And eventually, for it to expand beyond the visitors. Heil says, “We would like to have previous trauma patients who are in various stages of recovery come back and visit with those current patients who might need some extra encouragement.”
For now, once a month, the families hesitant to leave their loved one’s side can share their hopes, fears and more with volunteers like Silvey who truly know what it is like to be there, and what it’s like to be scared. But they don’t have to be alone.
“I would love to be here more and just spend time with families in the Trauma Center,” said Silvey. “I will have to invest in a lot more tissues, but it’s well worth the time and effort in making a difference for these families.”
First Run/Walk for Trauma Warriors
May is Trauma Awareness month. During this time, Barnes-Jewish Hospital raises awareness and educates the community about injury prevention and the latest in trauma care.
In honor of Trauma Awareness Month, the St. Louis community is invited to participate in a 5K run or 1 mile walk on Saturday, May 30 at Tower Grove Park, Sons of Rest Shelter. Registration begins at 7 a.m. The run/walk kicks off at 8 a.m.
“Trauma is still the leading killer for adults up to age 44. Given the young age of our patients, the cost to society is great,” said Douglas Schuerer, MD, Washington University acute and critical care surgeon, and director of trauma services at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “This trauma walk/run is part of our outreach program to help the community understand how significant trauma centers are and how important injury prevention is for our region.”
The trauma run/walk welcomes medical care professionals, family and friends of trauma victims as well as trauma survivors. Proceeds will go toward Barnes-Jewish’s Trauma Survival Network for programs like Snack and Chat.
To register for the trauma run/walk, contact Barnes-Jewish trauma services at 314-362-9175.